Summary: Light dawns for the righteous, and joy is sown for the upright in heart (Psalm 97:11).
A PSALM OF PROCLAMATION
A. This Psalm is not just another enthronement Psalm: but a declaration of the One whose kingdom has been - and is being, and will yet be - revealed in creation, providence, and redemption. “The LORD reigns” (Psalm 97:1) - not because I say so, or because I have ‘received Him as King in my heart’ (though I must do that) - but because He has been enthroned from all eternity, and is ruling in the realm of time. The kings of Babylon, Persia and Rome have been forced to acknowledge this. Even their might and power, like that of the kings of Israel and Judah before them, was forced to yield like putty in the hand of the LORD (Proverbs 21:1).
Jesus is ‘born King of the Jews’ (Matthew 2:2). Likewise, He dies with the accusation written: ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews’ (Matthew 27:37). However, Jesus died not for their sins only, but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2) - and thereby the LORD comes to be acknowledged as ‘the King of all the earth’ (Psalm 47:7; Zechariah 14:9).
B. As well as a declaration, this Psalm is a call to the whole of creation to rejoice (Psalm 97:1). This includes the earth/ the land - and the isles/ the coastlands. At His presence, the elements yield, and “the hills melt like wax” (Psalm 97:5). It is also a call to “the daughters of Judah” (Psalm 97:8) / “the righteous” (Psalm 97:12) to rejoice in the LORD - and to “give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness” (Psalm 97:12).
We are reminded of Paul and Silas, fastened to the stocks in the deepest dungeon in Philippi, ‘singing praises to God at midnight’ (Acts 16:25). Circumstances need not prevent us from praising the LORD. Later the Apostle Paul would encourage the church in that city: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice’ (Philippians 4:4).
C. The manifestation of the LORD in clouds and darkness (Psalm 97:2), and avenging fire (Psalm 97:3; cf. Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29) - in lightning, and amidst a trembling of the earth (Psalm 97:4) and a melting of the hills (Psalm 97:5) - takes us back to Mount Sinai, and the giving of the law (Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:18). We are also reminded of the everyday testimony of the heavens (Psalm 97:6; cf. Psalm 19:1-6), and warned against idolatry (Psalm 97:7; cf. Romans 1:20-25). Everything that we may have hitherto deemed as ‘gods’ (Psalm 97:7; Psalm 97:9) must be brought into captivity to the one true God (2 Corinthians 10:5).
D. Then we are fast-forwarded to Mount Zion, and the right attitude to the judgments of the LORD (Psalm 97:8). There are echoes here of David’s dedication of the site for the Temple (Psalm 97:9; cf. 1 Chronicles 29:11-12). Those who love the LORD are called into alignment with His attitude toward evil, and are blessed and preserved on account of it (Psalm 97:10).
E. “Light dawns” (Psalm 97:11) with the visitation of the ‘dayspring from on high’ (Luke 1:76-79), and the manifestation of ‘a light to lighten the nations, and the glory of thy people Israel’ (Luke 2:32). In the final analysis, it is the LORD who plants joy in the hearts of His people.